Billy Idol Biography

William Michael Albert Broad, 30 November 1955, Stanmore, Middlesex, England. While studying English Literature at Sussex University, Broad became involved with the ‘Bromley contingent’ followers of the Sex Pistols. Inspired by the energy of punk, he formed his own group, Chelsea, in 1976. The original outfit was short-lived and Billy Idol, as he was now known, next founded Generation X. This band lasted from 1976-81, after which Idol left England and launched his solo career in New York. He recorded Don’t Stop, which featured a revival of Tommy James And The Shondells’ UK number 1 ‘Mony Mony’. Through 1982-84, Idol’s career blossomed on both sides of the Atlantic and his acerbic vocal style and lively stage act brought a string of hits including ‘Hot In The City’ (US number 23), ‘Eyes Without A Face’ (US number 4/UK number 18), ‘White Wedding’ (UK number 6), ‘Rebel Yell’ (UK number 6 when reissued), and ‘To Be A Lover’ (US number 6). With his album sales increasing each year, Idol actually became an idol and turned an old hit to advantage by taking a live version of ‘Mony Mony’ to number 1 in the USA in 1987.

Despite his legendary excessive lifestyle, Idol appeared in several charity shows. In 1988, he took part in Neil Young’s Bridge School Benefit concert and the following year guested in the charity performance of the Who’s Tommy in London. After being auditioned for a part in Oliver Stone’s The Doors, Idol almost emulated its central character by suffering an early death. A motorcycle crash in February 1990 seriously damaged his leg, but he recovered remarkably quickly and the same May hit the number 2 slot in America with ‘Cradle Of Love’ (taken from the Andrew Dice Clay movie The Adventures Of Ford Fairlaine). However, he soon found himself back in trouble, this time with the Los Angeles courts when, in 1992, he was put on probation for two years and fined $2, 700 for an assault on a ‘fan’. This all added fuel to the rebel image but by now Idol had become far more successful than most of the punk founders with whom he rubbed shoulders back in 1977. His attempt to rebrand his image and musical style on 1993’s Cyberpunk was a notable commercial and critical failure, and the following year Idol narrowly escaped death for a second time when he overdosed.

Idol laid low until the end of the decade when he made a cameo appearance in the Adam Sandler comedy The Wedding Singer. Idol’s comeback was confirmed in the new millennium thanks to a highly entertaining Behind The Music documentary for the VH1 channel, and an accompanying live CD recorded with guitarist Steve Stevens. The 2005 studio album Devil’s Playground was a partially successful attempt to restore Idol’s tarnished rocker image.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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